Chris Givens working to diversify game

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- It should have come as no surprise Thursday night when Rams receiver Chris Givens settled under a long pass from quarterback Sam Bradford and hauled it in for a 59-yard gain.

In his 2012 debut season, Givens made the long ball his personal calling card. So he and Bradford decided to let it be known right away in the preseason opener against Cleveland that their home run connection wasn’t going away.

“Me and Sam decided to try and send a message, ‘This is the effort you’re going to get every Sunday,’” Givens said.

Buoyed by the type of sprinter’s speed that the Rams hadn’t had at receiver since the days of Torry Holt, Givens garnered some national attention as a rookie for his ability to make big plays.

Along the way, Givens set a rookie record for consecutive games with a 50-plus yard reception with five; all of those coming within the first half of the season.

Givens finished the year with 42 receptions for 698 yards and three touchdowns. Following the offseason departures of Danny Amendola (New England) and Brandon Gibson (Miami), Givens is the team’s leading returning wideout in yards and yards per catch (16.6) and tied for first in catches.

Those numbers would seemingly put Givens in position to become Bradford’s top target in just his second season. But for that to happen, he’s going to have to prove he can be more than a one-trick pony.

By the time his rookie season was through, Givens had tallied 274 of his 698 receiving yards on those five deep balls, good for 39 percent of his total output.

After Givens’ 50-yard touchdown catch against New England on Oct. 21, teams finally became hip to his deep ball abilities. Bracket coverages became the norm and space in the secondary became hard for Givens to find.

So Givens and the Rams adjusted and began to get him the ball with short screens and quick routes. The short pass actually became even more prevalent in Givens’ game than the long ball as 27 of Givens’ 42 receptions came either behind the line of scrimmage or within 10 yards of it. He had six grabs of 21-plus yards.

For Givens to take the next step in 2013, he must diversify his game by becoming stronger and smoother on intermediate routes. He had just nine catches between 11 and 20 yards as a rookie.

During the offseason program, Givens pointed out that adding those routes to his game was his primary focus. As part of the plan, Givens added a few pounds to push his weight just north of 200 pounds.

Already in this training camp, Givens has made progress with his improved route running. Former Rams receivers Isaac Bruce and Holt have come away impressed with Givens’ work.

Bruce said Givens is not as “herky jerky” with his routes and appears to be smoother transitioning from running the route to catching the ball. Holt echoed those sentiments.

“He’s done a really good job with his routes, cleaning up his routes,” Holt said. “Speed, big play ability, nice size, there’s still some things that he can work on from a technique standpoint. I think he’s working on it. He’s asking a lot of questions. He’s wanting to improve his game.”

The Rams clearly trust Givens to do more than just run 9-routes deep down the field as he’s actually lining up at all three receiver positions in this camp.

In Thursday night’s game, Givens’ biggest grab was the first one but that one probably wasn’t his most impressive. He broke off a short route to catch a 3-yard touchdown pass and that, too, wasn’t the catch that had the coaching staff excited.

Instead, it was the 20-yard grab he made on a deep out route that caught the eye of coach Jeff Fisher.

“He’s doing that on the practice field,” Fisher said. “He didn’t have a lot of opportunities last night but he knew what was going on and made a real good adjustment on a fine throw.”

If Givens can continue to diversify his game, opportunities won’t be lacking.